Friday, March 27, 2015

Dead Man's Switch Revisited--plane crash, Yemen

...BUT FIRST....
A shout out to the Admin of Dr. Who Online (UK) who graced me with  his/her presence today.  I visited their site today, reset my password, logged in just to have a look around the place after having been absent a rather long time.  All I did was look around and put some stuff into my account info. That's it.  And that's how I know it's the Admin that visits my blog via info I just put into my account there.   Elementary, my dear Doctor. XD

Welcome to the blog.  Yes, you'll find that I claim to be a time traveler here, but before you scoff, look at the simple statement I made in my About Me section on your site.  It says "Grand Inquisitor of Chautauqua" and you'll have to know what Chautauqua in the U.S. is first to get a clue.  Here's another hint: there are historians who do the Chautauqua circuit--those with PhDs in history--who, after grumbling about it considerably, would grudgingly testify to their being convinced that I am indeed a time traveler.  Last summer, one of 'em actually called me a know-it-all. I couldn't be more delighted.

I shall continue to be an impossible person so long as those who are now possible remain possible.  --Mikhail Bakunin

You know the truth of it: I'm the original time traveling Clara, the Impossible Person. Then, now, and for all time.

Damn.  Down go the Sooners. #MarchMadness

Although this blog often posts about international incidents, it would seem to my regular readers that I've ignored such things lately, and so this post seeks to remedy that.  To begin, I'll address an issue heard on NPR this morning and covered extensively elsewhere: how the current pilot safety protocols involving cabin door access and automatic pilot capability proved to actually be a vulnerability.  And before I go there, I must mention again railroad safety measures in the form of the Dead Man's Switch.

To review: in the context of a Canadian rail accident where oil tankers exploded, the rail officials claimed that it was the engineer's fault for not setting the brake on, when the fact of the matter is that the default position of all train brakes is ON, and I explained the Dead Man's Switch: in order for the brakes to be disengaged, an engineer is required to actively keep them disengaged, else they're always engaged.  USA Today reported that firefighters, responding to a call about one of the engines, had deliberately disengaged the brakes, which makes more sense than blaming the engineer for failing to engage them. There's no such thing as "forgetting to set the brakes" because no human action is required to set brakes--human action is required to disengage the brakes. Regarding the Airbus crash, a similar principle should be instituted in the cockpit: in order to change the programming of autopilot while in transit, or to access the manual controls at all in mid flight, the system should require the presence of both pilots else the default programming is maintained.

Sure, that can get awkward if one pilot just had a heart attack or some terrorist killed him while he was en route to the bathroom, but contact with a terrestrial control station would remedy that situation, with the terrestrial station being the only facility capable of overriding the required other pilot's presence, necessitating communication contact in that type of circumstance, and in no occasion is any pilot trained to know how to effect the override himself as only ground control crew would know that information and have the equipment available to do so.

I would think that it would be within the realm of drone capability for ground control to take over the controls and guide the plane down without either pilot's intervention.  Within the realm of possibility is every airport designating one runway to be an emergency ground-controlled landing strip that airlines would also regard as being the one to avoid when in the process of requesting to land when an emergency occurs, rendering a possible emergency as somewhat predictable/planned-for contingency; if the plane has mechanical issues necessitating the landing on a nearby farm field or highway, highway patrol could be notified if there's enough advance time to permit that, with a location given to them and possible first responders.

The downed location would be known in advance of the downing, which would cut search time.  A designated emergency runway would render autopilot programming to be simple and predictable on every commercial carrier plane as well as introduce a measure of predictability for other air traffic and ground crew, compared to the tactic of using whatever runway might haphazardly be available at the time of the emergency.

Yesterday I heard some discussion panelist (I forget which) remark that putting cameras in the cockpit would give you only pictures of the pilots, which would be of no help cuz all we could do is just watch.  Au contraire, mon vieux--cameras would assist in giving the ground crew remote pilot capability.

I heard the most alarming thing repeatedly yesterday, and that's the Big Excuse for why the airline industry on the whole is trying to save their customer base: the odds of you getting on a plane with a suicidal pilot are slim.  They don't recognize the fact that your lives are a gamble to the industry and they insist that you continue to bet your life on their odds. Just ONE instance of this problem is one too many.

 Well, all this also raises an interesting question: if we're so upset by mass murder committed by a co-pilot with a death wish, why are we not equally concerned about mass murder attempted by rail when it's not just petrol products being carried by rail that go boom?  There's nitrates that travel by rail, as well as pure chlorine gas and anhydrous ammonia, the stuff of Syrian barrel bombs.  Stuff doesn't have to go boom in order to be equally effective instruments of mass murder.

There's also the productivity issue, and in both arenas: industrialists who profit from these things always demand more work for less money to maximize profit and are uniformly blind to the safety hazards that overworking their workers produce and that would include job burnout, which leads to on-the-job depression.  There are no clean hands in that regard.

Saturday Tech Addendum: KOCO channel 5 just reported on an Astria Project (can't find a link to this particular project yet, nor to the KOCO story about it) via BAE in the UK working on the capability of remotely piloting commercial planes.  Wait--they re-ran the segment and I caught it this time. Soon as I process that clip, I'll post it here.

Actually I just found the LINK to BAE and their Taranis program, so it's not Astria as reported--it's ASTRAEA. Definitely a step in the right direction for commercial planes, IMHO.

Yemen et al: The Atlantic makes a great Confused Person's Guide to the Middle East:

{.....sorry, folks, they removed the image, the scoundrels!}


Well, how 'bout them Zonie Cats last night, hm?  Oh, you were watching the Fighting Irish instead?  You missed some spectacular basketball, then, like Xavier's alternating hand layup, which was a marvel to behold and a thing of beauty.  But yeah--I was rooting for the Cats, and coming off of the first half it looked like a freakin' nail-biter.  The one thing I know that the Cats can do is think on their feet and adapt to changing conditions on the court, and they've got a tradition in that regard.  Although I'm basically a Sun Devils fan, I recognized the institutional prowess of the Cats ever since Hedake Smith was making headlines.  Cats are awesome and have been awesome for a long, long time.

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